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2010 Post-Recession

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Marketing Approach


by Ben Skelsey

A successful agency-client relationship must have honesty, equality, commonalities and trust. Such a relationship is the gateway to and the foundation on which good work, great ideas and effective strategy can be implemented.

I’ve seen many attitudes towards client/agency relationships in my time. From the agency being seen as just another supplier, to strategic partnerships, and even one that was more like a good friendship.

Then someone mentioned the idea of a marriage to me, and that the agency/client relationship should be viewed as such a partnership. A little cheesy, right?

I’m no marriage expert (just ask my girlfriend), but the fundamentals of a great marriage are probably good communication, openness, honesty, trust and equality. When I compare this list with some articles from a quick Google search, like this one and this one, I find similar themes.

So let’s look at some of these common themes:

1. Good Communication

I’m going to use the briefing process as an example. This could be the equivalent of requesting your partner do the shopping while you do the cleaning. There’s a lot of information that needs to be shared before a shopping trip: the basic “what” and “why”, costs, preferences, mandatories, etc. Good communication is essential.

Another example is planning (a 5-year business strategy for example). Your partner is a part of your future so he/she needs to be consulted on your future plans. They need to know they can help, if they think something is wrong with the plan, or more importantly, how this will affect the future.

Which leads me to my next point…

2. Plan and Grow Together

Your future plans should not only be shared with your partner, they should be built with your partner. There is no analogy needed for this one – how can you grow together if you don’t know what the other is doing? Relationships involve planning and growing together. This can only occur when a similar set of core values and desires exists. If you don’t share these, then it will be difficult to agree on anything. That’s not to say you have to agree all the time, but if the big picture doesn’t look similar, then the path to achieving that picture will never be agreed upon.

3. Honesty

No, this does not mean your agency or client needs to know your latest exploits.

This means that each partner needs to be honest at all times about the work, the relationship, the ideas, the plans, and limitations to do with any of these things. It is often very healthy to disagree (a lot of these ‘marriage websites’ certainly say so), and it is ok to question things along the way – for both partners. The key here is honesty, not blame…

4. Mutual Commitment

”To err is human”. But a marriage must rise above this. The partners must realise that every decision is made together, and the risks are worn equally. When things don’t work out it is more important to look at why these things happened, than who caused them (great article on ‘The Success of Failure’ here).

Marketing is neither art nor science. Marketers need to constantly test and assess their activities to determine what’s working and what needs fixing. If a mistake happens, it should be seen as a learning experience and a plan to learn from it should be put in place.

The key here is not to make it personal…

5. Fighting Fairly

Disagreements are a natural part of all relationships (as said by Allison Mupas, Marriage and Family Therapist). Allison says:

“If you are the type to pull punches below the belt, name calling, screaming or using a threatening tone… drudging up past history or slipping in that sarcastic comment just because you know it will hurt the other person then you are not fighting fairly. Some behaviors or interpersonal patterns must be decidedly eliminated from your relationships if you wish to have a healthier relationship.

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

6. Willingness to Compromise
   (or not, in some instances)

This one is a little trickier. I am all for compromise and think it is vital to any relationship. However in the context of a business relationship, one must tread very carefully. The work must never be compromised. It can be improved, but ‘improving’ vs ‘changing’ are different things. Compromise can encompass both…but proceed with caution.

If you disagree on a particular concept, do not whittle it down to something that doesn’t resemble the original. Rather, start again and build something better. If you can’t agree on a particular course of action, it is often better to go back to the drawing board than combine several.

It is your attitude to the relationship that matters most. If you do not respect each other, if you do not want to be together, then you’ll need more than marriage counseling to help resolve things.

So if I ask you to marry me, it’s because I think we would be brilliant together… and you have to think that too before you say ‘yes’.

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